The robot shop worker controlled by a faraway human

2020/10/06 15:57

Today's Vocabulary

1. illusion (n) 
an idea or belief that is not true

2. dystopian (adj) 
relating to a very bad or unfair society in which there is a lot of suffering, especially an imaginary society in the future, or to the description of such a society

3. nausea (n) 
the feeling that you are going to vomit

4. grasp (v) 
to quickly take something in your hand(s) and hold it firmly

5. aisle (n) 
a long, narrow space between rows of seats in an aircraft, theater, or church

6. snags (n)
a problem, difficulty, or disadvantage

7. don (v)
to put on a piece of clothing

The robot shop worker controlled by a faraway human

In a quiet aisle of a small supermarket in Tokyo, a robot dutifully goes about its work. Reaching down, it grabs yet another bottle of a flavoured drink that humans like, lifts it and places it on the shelf of a refrigerated unit. Then the next one. People come and go.

It looks like a well-integrated autonomous mechanical worker, but that is something of an illusion. This robot doesn’t have a mind of its own. Several miles away, a human worker is controlling its every movement remotely and watching via a virtual reality (VR) headset that provides a robot’s eye view.

This is the work of Japanese firm Telexistence, whose Model-T robot is designed to allow people to do physical labour in supermarkets and other locations from the comfort of their own homes.

The Model-T is a “human avatar” says Yuichiro Hikosaka, board director at Telexistence. You can go anywhere without moving yourself,” he says. The concept is called telerobotics or teleoperation, and it has been dramatized in dystopian sci-fi films such as Surrogates and Sleep Dealer.

There are snags the firm has yet to overcome, though. For one thing, the Model-T doesn’t move nearly as quickly as a human supermarket worker. And the VR headset can cause dizziness or nausea for people especially if they wear it for prolonged periods. Mr Hikosaka says he and his colleagues are working on solutions to these problems.

And when it comes to handling and moving objects in shops or warehouses, he says robots are a very long way from matching human skills.


  1. The West sees robots as evil and dangerous, Japan sees them as helpful and cute. What do you think?
  2. Do you think robots will ever have emotions or be able to love?
  3. What name would you give to your robot?

“Humans are limited in the attention, kindness and compassion that they can expend to others, but AI based compassionate robots can channel virtually unlimited resources into building compassionate relationships in the society.”

Amit Ray